The Book of Sawce, Chapter 12 – A Book of Short Stories

12) The Illustrated Man

Sick ink, bro.

Much like the Rocket Man, I’m back from a three-month journey.  Actually it was only a month and some change.  And I wasn’t on a journey.  Just doing other things.  But I’m back now!  Back to reading (actual books) and writing (not just angry tweets).  Which means I’m also back to the reading challenge.  This time around we have Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man.

Being a book of short stories, you wouldn’t expect there to be a protagonist to speak of (and there’s really not), but the framing device should be mentioned since it’s the titular character.  The unnamed narrator is a rambling man of sorts.  I don’t know if he’s a vagrant or just walking on a long trip, but one day he meets the Illustrated Man.  A former carny covered in tattoos, the Illustrated Man is traveling around trying to find the woman who gave him his ink.  It seems as though she was from the future and imbued his illustrations with the power to move and tell stories.  They sound fascinating to the narrator, but the Illustrated Man wants them gone as they’ve ruined his life.  The two get ready to fall asleep, yet the narrator is unable to look away from the living tattoos.

And that’s where the 18 short stories begin.  Now then, I’ve actually had this book for years.  Picked it up in a library sale many, many moons ago.  The reason I never got to it is because, well…I’m not that big a fan of short stories.  Sure, I’ve read plenty that I like, but they always feel like they take too long to read and yet still don’t stick around long enough.  I know that’s a strange description, but that’s how I feel.  Luckily enough, the ones I really like in this collection don’t overstay their welcome.

The very first one, “The Veldt,” is the story of a married couple who have essentially left their smart house to do all the family-ing and child-rearing.  Their two kids spend an unhealthy amount of time in their virtual reality nursery, which can produce any image desired.  The parents begin to worry when the only image that’s been projected for a while is the African veldt.  Yeah, I knew how it was gonna play out, but it was still really well told.

The following story is “Kaleidoscope,” and it’s terrifying.  Space scares me.  The enormity of it is simply intimidating.  So, whenever any bit of fiction deals with a character or characters trapped in space with only a spacesuit on, it seriously unnerves me.  “The Other Foot” is another favorite of mine, and so is “The Man.”  The former deals with white people finally visiting an all black Mars, and the latter hints that Jesus has returned and is visiting other planets.  Both really cool concepts.

In writing this, I’m coming to realize I enjoyed far more of these than I originally thought.  “The Long Rain,” “The Rocket Man,” “The Fire Balloons,” “The Exiles,” “The Fox and the Forest,” “Marionettes, Inc.,” and “The Rocket” are all really neat.  I especially like “The Long Rain” since it’s one of the few that take place off Earth that’s not set on Mars.  It’s on Venus, and it has my most favorite description of a thundercloud ever.  “The Rocket” is on up there, too, since it’s one of the few that has a very upbeat ending.

Which leads me to the main reason why it was hard for me to get through these stories.  Most don’t end happily.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need happy endings, but give me a bright spot somewhere.  Damn.  It might be because I expected the bad endings (you read sci-fi short stories and watch Twilight Zone long enough) that I disliked them so much.  Granted, that did make me appreciate it all the more when the stories didn’t go out on a bad note.

So yeah, aside from my own bias against short stories and Bradbury’s need to make me go, “Why’d it have to end this way?” I quite enjoyed The Illustrated Man when I finally sat down to read it.  He did seem to enjoy using Mars a lot, too.  Just an observation.

That’ll do it for this entry in the reading challenge.  Next on the list is a book set in a different country.  What will it be?  Stay tuned to find out.

(If you follow me on Instagram, though, you probably have a good idea of what it’s gonna be.)

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